September 8, 2004


Why Japan prefers Bush (GLEN S. FUKUSHIMA, 9/09/04, Japan Times)

[T]he ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has for decades felt more comfortable dealing with Republicans than with Democrats. The LDP and GOP enjoyed a strong alliance against communism during the Cold War and continue to share a politically and socially conservative agenda that embraces close ties with big business.

Many in the Japanese establishment prefer the order, stability, and exclusiveness represented by the GOP to the openness, inclusiveness, and diversity valued by Democrats. In addition, when Republicans are in the White House, Democrats tend to return to think tanks, law firms, and universities, whereas when Democrats occupy the White House, Republicans usually return to business and continue in the private sector to cultivate ties with their Japanese counterparts. Over time, this network of human relationships has given Japanese leaders a greater sense of familiarity and assurance with Republicans (e.g., Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage) than with most Democrats.

Another reason Japanese leaders prefer Bush is their bitter experience with the Clinton administration. When President Bill Clinton assumed office in January 1993, the U.S. economy had not yet fully recovered, and Japan was still seen as a formidable economic rival. The ensuing two years of intense bilateral trade negotiations evoked considerable resentment in Japan.

No sooner had these negotiations run their course in June 1995 when, in September, three U.S. servicemen stationed in Okinawa were charged with the brutal rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl, further fueling Japanese hostility toward the U.S. And the Asian financial crisis, triggered by the collapse of the Thai baht in July 1997, led to the U.S. hectoring Japan to stimulate domestic demand and to play the role of a "locomotive" to spur Asian economic recovery, again, pressure that grated on Japan.

Japan's positive experiences with the GOP in the 1980s and negative experiences with the Democrats in the 1990s have led many leaders here to conclude that Japan's interests will be better served by having a Republican, rather than a Democrat, in the White House. [...]

But a more salient factor is North Korea. Many Japanese believe that Koizumi has no choice but to support Bush on Iraq in order to secure his cooperation with Japan on North Korea. Some may question this logic, since the Bush administration is likely to pursue its policy toward Kim Jong Il regardless of what Japan says or does. But there is a strongly held view in Japan that support for the U.S. in Iraq -- including the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces -- is essential to secure U.S. support for Japan on such issues as the Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea.

Ongoing tensions with China on the issue of Japanese responsibility for its colonial past and with Russia on the issue of the Northern Territories add to the sense of Japanese vulnerability. In effect, Japan's uneasy relationships with North Korea, China, and Russia mean that for Japan, having a U.S. administration that takes a tough stance toward these countries -- but without raising unnecessary tensions in the region -- is preferable to one that tries to improve U.S. ties with them, especially if these efforts are not closely coordinated with Japan.

Boy, no one expects John Kerry to be a tough leader.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 8, 2004 10:30 PM

North Korea fired a couple of missiles which landed in the water on either side of Japan. This tends to focus the mind.

This writer has a strange bias. He seems to feel that the LDP preference for dealing with people, who actually work in the private sector and understand the realities of trade over a group of people who infest universities, think tanks and isolated environments, is somehow a bad thing.

Posted by: Bart at September 9, 2004 7:08 AM

Speaking as an American, I think that there's no doubt whatsoever that PM Koizumi needs to support the US position on Iraq if Japan expects a positive (for them) outcome to the North Korean situation.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 9, 2004 5:01 PM

"And the Asian financial crisis, triggered by the collapse of the Thai baht in July 1997, led to the U.S. hectoring Japan to stimulate domestic demand and to play the role of a "locomotive" to spur Asian economic recovery, again, pressure that grated on Japan."

We should be playing hardball with them on trade issues, pressuring them to stimulate domestic demand and to give US companies more access to their markets. It is not in our interest to continue to run trade deficits with Japan. If they are offended by that, well, boo hoo.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 10, 2004 12:05 AM


Since we started running that trade deficit we've gotten much wealthier and they've tanked.

Posted by: oj at September 10, 2004 12:11 AM

Especially since they're effectively giving us a lot of the stuff they export on credit.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 10, 2004 6:26 AM